The ‘Best’ Designed Beer Can Is the One That Sells the Most Beer
I recently read an article in Adweek called “What Are the Best Looking Beer Cans in America.” Apparently we are in a Golden Age of beer can design. And some of them are pretty fun (see a gallery here). But I believe that while these designs are creatively interesting, they divert from a beer can’s real job, which (aside from its function as a container) is to get beer drinkers to buy the beer.
Design should have an objective. Design is purpose-driven and client-driven, and these qualities are what differentiates it from art. Good design can certainly enhance our lives and create an aesthetic response in its beholders. But I believe the best design is the one that sells the most product and builds the biggest market.
Learning from Miller Lite
Back to beer. When I worked at Landor, I had the experience of working on the positioning and branding of Miller Lite. This was the first mainstream light beer, and it had a distinct challenge: It needed to tout its “light” qualities without turning off traditional big beer drinkers. Miller Brewing Company wanted something distinctive that would stand apart from its other offerings (smart brand architecture, by the way), yet still fit into the Miller brand promise of real beer.
You can debate the taste and quality of Miller beer, especially compared to today’s artisanal microbrews. But there’s no debating that Miller Lite was a breakout success, spawning a whole new market in light beer. After Lite’s introduction Miller became the second largest brewery in America.
The design of the Miller Lite can was designed to convey the promise of a less filling beer that will satisfy big beer drinkers. Its slightly Germanic lettering promises serious beer, the golden hops convey flavor and the white background conveys a “lightness.” The large red oval in the center gives multiple cans strong shelf-impact and identifiable distinctness on TV. The design may not show up on lists like “The 10 Coolest-Looking Beer Cans in America.” But in my point of view, Miller Lite is one of the best designed beer cans out there. Why? Because it’s been so successful in selling beer for Miller Brewing.